HL Deb 27 September 1841 vol 59 cc813-23
Lord Brougham

rose to call the attention of their Lordships, to a subject in which the House had at different periods manifested considerable and a very natural interest, considering their high judicial as well as legislative capacity, that of the manner in which the prisons of the realm were managed. Their Lordships were aware that in 1825 a bill was brought into Parliament by Sir Robert Peel, at that time at the head of the Home Department, which bill was subsequently passed into a law, called the Gaol Act, the purpose of which was to make the discipline of prisons as nearly as possible uniform throughout the country. Very great improvements, no doubt, resulted from that act, but some ten years after, in 1835, their Lordships were of opinion, that still further improvements might be made, and on the motion of a noble Friend of his (the Duke of Richmond), a committee was appointed which sat for some weeks, examined a great number of witnesses, inspected many prisons, and made a most valuable report; and out of that report proceeded the act of the same year, the Duke of Richmond's Act, the 5th and 6th Will. 4th, for the further improvement of prison discipline. The principal alterations effected by this act were the giving the Secretary of State, instead of the Judges, the power of approving, or rejecting, or altering the rules of prisons from time to time promulgated by magistrates: the giving the Secretary of State the power of making such rules himself, and also the power of inspecting prisons by himself or by deputy, and above all, the important power of appointing inspectors who should, from time to time, examine the state of prisons and report thereupon to the Home Department In pursuance of this act, six most valuable reports had been made by the inspectors, containing a vast body of useful information—useful not only to the Home Department in carrying the measure into execution, but useful also to the Legislature in considering the whole question. These reports had pointed out to the Home Office a number of cases in which particular prisons had departed from the rules laid down by the different gaol acts, and the effect of thus communicating to the [Ionic Office the precise parties who had failed in their duty, or had improper notions of their duty, had been, that in a great majority of instances the subject-matter of complaint had been removed by those parties. It was, therefore, clear, that a considerable amount of benefit had resulted to the public from the measures which had already been passed on the subject. The persons appointed to conduct the inquiry had performed their duty, generally speaking, in the most satisfactory manner; and no one could read the latter reports, the 5th, and 6th, without being convinced that the complaints made in the four first reports had had the effect of remedying the evils and correcting the abuses complained of. He might, therefore, safely assert, that in the vast majority of instances, the evils and abuses complained of had been corrected in consequence of the reports of the inspectors. Nevertheless, there were many instances in which the evils and the abuses had not been corrected, and the inspectors had reported in vain, for either the communications from the Home Office had not been made in consequence, or if made, had not been attended to. He would state a few cases to show the necessity of still further interference on the part of the Secretary of State; and in calling their Lordships' attention to that part of the subject, he should avoid stating either the names of individuals, or even the names of the prisons referred to; and his reason was this, that at that late period of the Session those statements would be disseminated throughout the country with a publicity which it would be impossible for any other persons to hope to equal, and the consequence would be, that for the next three or four months those persons against whom complaints might be made, would have no opportunity of being heard in their defence, or of offering any explanation of their conduct, with anything like the publicity which these charges would have received. No doubt it might be said, that he was speaking of things which had already appeared printed in the inspectors' report, but not one-hundredth part of the persons had read or would read them in those reports, who would read what might be stated on the subject in Parliament, more especially if those statements contained charges against individuals. For this reason he should abstain from mentioning any names, and content himself with laying before their Lordships certain facts which he considered to be worthy of their attention. He should commence with reminding their Lordships of complaints lately made, not, indeed, against the magistrates, but against some officious persons who appeared to have put the power of the magistrates in motion, on the subject of what he could wish to call obsolete statutes; only that, by the laws of England, there were no obsolete statutes—but on the subject of statutes which had not been acted upon for very many years, he might say centuries, and he mentioned this point, because it was from the circumstance of his attention being called to this part of the subject by an old and valued Friend of his (Mr. Pigou), who had bestowed much consideration upon the question, and by whose means many abuses had been pointed out to the authorities, and were, it was to be hoped, in course of remedy— it was from the circumstance of his attention being called to this part of the report, that he had extended his consideration to the whole of the reports of the prison inspectors, and he found that on a former occasion he had understated to their Lordships the evils of the officious zeal of which he had complained. He had then stated that eleven persons had been punished for non-attendance at church, of whom one had been sixty-one days in prison, and the others sixty-three. But he had since found that there had been a still worse case; for one man, a labourer, had been in confinement ten weeks, in consequence of being convicted in a penalty of 1s., with 14s. costs, for having been absent from church a single Sunday without reasonable excuse. At the end of the seventy days, application was made to the Secretary of State, who, very properly, was pleased to recommend her Majesty to pardon this man for the offence of having been absent from church one Sunday, and he was released, after having suffered seventy days' imprisonment. He could hardly trust himself to speak of such a case; suffice it to say, he was quite sure that if anything could tend to the desecration of the Sabbath, it was such conduct as that. He had been informed that the informations had been laid against these persons by the procurement of a magistrate, and he should expect that inquiry be made into the subject at the Home Department, whether this were the fact or no. For, though he had before observed, that the justices were not to blame in this matter, inasmuch as if an information was laid before them, and proved, the law was imperative, and they must act upon it; yet if it were found that one justice had laid these informations before other justices, for the purpose of having this law executed, the enforcement of which was imperative upon them, then he would say, that the magistrate laying the information was not without blame. But he had been told, by way of excuse, that these men were persons of bad character, good-for-nothing people, who had been guilty of other excesses, and that it was for the purpose of punishing them for their excesses that this dormant statute had been awakened. Now, that appeared to him to be no justification, no extenuation, but rather an aggravation than an excuse—for every magistrate ought to know that there was nothing worse, nothing more irregular, nothing more calculated to bring the administration of justice into contempt, than to convict a person of one offence and sentence him for another. To proceed with the report of the inspector, one great subject of complaint was the entire variety of management which prevailed in the different prisons. He found that while in one prison one kind of diet was allowed, in another a totally different kind of diet prevailed. In some prisons for example, animal food in small quantities was given, while in others no animal diet at all was allowed. In some prisons for the first three months, in others for the first six months of confinement, no nourishment beyond a low kind of diet was allowed; and at the end of that time the nourishment was increased. But a complaint frequently made by these inspectors was, that the diet was too low for persons condemned to hard labour, a system which was found to inflict great, and in many cases permanent injury upon those who came under its operation. One prison in particular was mentioned, where the diet in these cases was so low that many of the prisoners were suffering from a dreadful disease, which, he believed, was now peculiar to prisons, although at one time it had been very prevalent in this country—he meant the land scurvy. In the case alluded to, it was clear that the diet was below what it ought to be, and the reports of the medical men all went to show, that low diet was one of the principal causes of the disease. In that prison, the proportion of persons in the hospital amounted, at the time the report was made, to ten persons out of fifty, the total number of those in the prison; thus, one-fifth of the inmates of the prison were in the hospital, and the medical officer of the prison stated, that such was the usual proportion. Now, it was clear that there must be something wrong in the management of the prison to give so large a proportion. He would not enter further into particulars, as it was his intention to furnish the Home Department with a reference to the pages of the reports in which those particulars were stated, in order that the evils might be inquired into. There was another abuse, which it appeared to him required a remedy, and that was the gaoler having, contrary to the twenty-four rules of the Gaol Act of 1825, a direct interest in the supply of articles to the prison. It was quite clear that he should have no concern in these matters whatever. In the prison to which he had adverted, the gaoler provided a great many articles, and one of them he particularly recollected was beer, when supplied to the prisoners under the surgeon's direction; and an aggravation of this abuse was that he charged the county with 1s. 4d. a gallon for the beer, but paid only 1s. the gallon himself. The attendance of the officers, also, varied very much, more than he could have supposed. In most prison the chaplain did his duty in an exemplary manner. He attended, not merely on Sundays, and other days of public worship, but he visited the prisoners in their cells, and gave them spiritual advice. In the vast majority of the cases, then, the duty was well performed; but in the reports there were many exceptions; and it was remarkable that these occurred in the prisons which were most numerously filled and where the salaries of the chaplains were most ample. The next question to which he should refer was, the punishment of prisoners; and it was greatly to be regretted that personal chastisement, flogging, should be allowed as an ordinary punishment. He did not mean to say, that in no case should it be inflicted, but he thought the more sparingly it was resorted to the better. Their Lordships would observe, that the punishment was inflicted publicly, before all the inmates of the prison, the object being to deter by example; but if their Lordships would look at the report to which he was now referring, they would find that the example could not be said to be a wholesome one in that respect. Their Lordships were aware that the keeper of a prison had the power, under the Gaol Act, of inflicting punishments of a lesser description; thus for the more ordinary offences, such as breaches of prison discipline, he had the power of confining prisoners for three days on a low diet; but for offences of a greater weight, he must go before the visiting justices, any two of whom, or indeed any two of the justices, were empowered to inflict a severer punishment. In one case which he had particularly remarked, the punishment was twelve dozen of lashes, inflicted upon the complaint of the keeper, against a person who appeared indeed to have been a very vicious person—who had been thirty times in prison, but for offences connected with the game laws, a poacher. The individual was evidently what might be called an incorrigible person. It did not appear very clearly what the offence was for which that punishment was given, but it seemed to be for generally refractory and mutinous conduct, without any special act being done to warrant such a punishment. The person was not only mutinous himself, but also encouraged the other prisoners to violate the laws of the prison, but notwithstanding twelve dozen lashes ought not to have been given. Nothing could be more shocking than the effect which this punishment had had upon the rest of the prisoners. It seemed to have an entirely contrary effect to that which was anticipated from such punishments. It was quite obvious that no such punishment ought to have been permitted, and he could only regard the magistrates, a clergyman or a country gentleman, as having been surprised into the order which sanctioned it. A very great variety was found to exist in the discipline of different prisons. He would state some instances of that variety, because the matter appeared to him of great consequence with regard to the ends of justice. He would take three counties, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, and Hertfordshire, and he would show to their Lordships how much the inflictions varied in the prisons of those counties. He took these counties merely because they were contiguous, and probably inhabited by the same kind of people. In Bucks, the number of punishments for breaches of prison discipline, as compared with the number of inmates, amounted to only one punishment for three persons, that was, there being 135 persons as the average number of prisoners for the year, the number of punishments during that year was forty-three. In the next county, Berks, let him take one of the gaols, and lie found that the punishments were not one to three persons, but three to two persons, that was sixty-three punishments to forty-two persons, being 4½ greater than in the adjoining county. In another gaol in the same county of Berks, the proportion got up to double, the punishments being three to one person. In Hertfordshire the proportion rose still higher, for there it was four punishments for one person, which was twelve times more than in the county of Bucks. Then, if they came to the county in which they then were, he found that in one prison in the city there were five punishments for two persons; in another, three punishments for two persons; and in a third, nine punishments for one person, being twenty-seven times greater than in Buckinghamshire. Now, it was perfectly impossible that the nature and habits of individuals could be so different as this disproportion of punishments would imply, and the disparity must, therefore, in a great measure be owing to the mischievous diversity of rules, which was matter of just complaint. There were one or two oilier points to which be would call the attention of their Lordships. He found from the report that not merely in one or two, but in a great many cases, untried prisoners were confined in the same place with convicts, and this in prisons where there was no allegation of want of accommodation. Again, in very many cases, it appeared that untried prisoners were subjected to the prison dress. There was one complaint to which he must allude of a very extraordinary nature. A prisoner stated to the inspector that he had been illegally detained in custody, having been committed for trial at the sessions, and having, after the lapse of some days, been called up by the keeper, and told by him that he had been summarily convicted, and adjudged to twelve months' imprisonment. He thought this a very strange circumstance; it looked to him very like the case of a person who had been tried and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment in his absence. He could not help thinking, that there had been some very considerable irregularity in this case, and he highly approved of the discharge of the prisoner, by the order of the Secretary of State. He, however, should like inquiry to be made into the matter, with the view of learning who was in fault—whe- ther the keeper or the magistrates, or whether this man was really summarily convicted in the manner which lie had described. It was quite impossible that the whole of the volumes of the reports of the Inspectors of Prisons could be thoroughly read, and considered, and acted upon by the Home Secretary, immediatey on their publication. He did not blame the Home Secretary for not having acted sooner on those reports: on the contrary, after the best consideration, he thought it was the most desirable course, in the first instance, to lay these reports before Parliament, and to let the parties whose conduct was adverted to, in consequence of slight irregularities, see them; and wait till the next report, to observe whether any alteration had taken place. The Sixth Report of the Inspectors contained statements with respect to more serious matters, involving the conduct of many officers of prisons. He could not help expressing his concurrence also with the course that had been taken by the Home Office with regard to the appointment of a legal adviser to that office. He regretted to hear that it was the intention to diminish the number of legal officers in that department. The Solicitor of the Home Department, as he understood, had, from motives of delicacy to the present Secretary of State, sent in his resignation. He greatly regretted this, and thought that it was altogether unnecessary to do so until inquiry had been made to see whether it would not be advantageous to continue this office. From his own knowledge of the Home Department, and from the difficulties which often arose in consequence of state prosecutions, and more especially in cases which occurred consequent on great changes in the law, he felt convinced that the retaining this legal officer would be a saving, and not a loss of public money. He said nothing of other advantages that would result from keeping up this place. When he was in office he felt deeply the importance of such an appointment, and what had taken place since had convinced him still more of its importance. Under these circumstances, he thought that it was altogether unnecessary for Mr. Vizard at once to resign his office, for if any inquiry had been instituted, he was convinced that the result would be a recommendation to continue it. The motion which he was about to make was, that an address be presented to her Majesty, praying that directions might be given that at the commencement of next Ses- sion of Parliament, there be laid on the Table returns as to what had been done in consequence of the reports of the inspectors of prisons for the previous year. This would insure attention at the Home Office to the subject. He made this proposition entirely in consequence of what he had seen in the sixth report of the inspectors of prisons, and he wished to state distinctly, that lie meant to cast no blame on the Home Department. He felt the greatest pleasure in being able to state that nothing could have been more satisfactory than the conduct of his noble Friend (the Marquess of Normanby) in this department; his whole proceedings were marked with great judgment and his conduct had been as commendable for its decision as for its humanity. He felt it only a matter of duty, to say this as he had been impelled on a former occasion to differ from his noble Friend, as to some proceedings of his administration in another department, and had been under the painful necessity of obtaining the concurrence of the House in the view he took of the subject. He repeated he was much gratified lo find that his noble Friend's conduct in the Home-office had been so satisfactory during the whole period in which he had held the seals; and he did not think that his noble Friend's successor could do better than imitate, he could scarcely surpass, his example. He confined his motion to the sixth report, in consequence of the duties of the Home-office having been so satisfactorily discharged. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving that— A humble address be presented to her Majesty, praying that her Majesty would be graciously pleased to give directions, that a the commencement of next Session of Parliament, there should be laid on the Table o both Houses a report of the proceedings that had taken place, founded on the Report of the Inspectors of Prisons for the previous year.

The Duke of Wellington

observed, that as it was necessary that the reports of the inspectors of prisons should be laid before Parliament, it was probably right that both Houses should have full knowledge of what had been done in consequence of these reports. He confessed that he did not exactly know the points his noble and learned Friend intended to allude to, as he was not acquainted with the details respecting the question of prison discipline With respect to the details of each case which had been alluded to by his noble and learned Friend, it perhaps would not be possible to determine how far the authorities had been justified in acting in the way which had been described, but they were matters which most certainly called for rigid inquiry. If it was true that in some places the punishments inflicted on persons in prison were as nine to one in other places, it was a very remarkable circumstance, and no doubt the causes ought to be thoroughly investigated. His noble and learned Friend had promised to scud to his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department, the details of these particular cases; he (the Duke of Wellington) was sure, that his right hon. Friend would pay every attention to them, and would direct inquiry to be made. So far from opposing the object of the motion, ho should be very glad to give every information to the House on the subject, but he thought that there would be a technical difficulty as to presenting such an address, as it called upon the Crown to order information to be laid prospectively before them next Session of Parliament.

Lord Brougham

said, it was merely a direction. The motion was in the ordinary shape.

The Lord Chancellor

suggested that the words "next Session of Parliament" might be omitted.

Lord Campbell

agreed in the remark of the noble Duke opposite, that the motion for prospective information would be irregular. While he was on his legs he begged to call the attention of their Lordships to the want of law assistance at the Home Office. No man was more sensible of the great zeal and ability of Mr. Vizard, and he thought the public service was likely to suffer if legal assistance was withheld in that department. He had had nearly nine years' experience connected with the Home Department, and he had no hesitation in saying that a more valuable public servant could not be found than Mr. Vizard.

Lord Brougham

said, his noble and learned Friend was quite mistaken. The motion, as made by him, was strictly regular.

Motion amended as follows agreed to. That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty, praying that her Majesty would graciously be pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, an account of any proceedings had by the Home Department in consequence of the sixth report of the Inspectors of Prisons, as far as the same can be done without detriment to the public service.


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